An Ode to the Micro-Ambitious: How to Master Minor Milestones for Major Progress

If you are familiar with my writing and work, you know how much I love to garden. It’s not simply the act of gardening but the garden as a teacher. A garden is potted poetry. It’s not beautiful because each section is beautiful, but because each part exists in relation to the others. Gardening is an exercise of alignment and authenticity—as is the vision you cultivate for your life and leadership.

When you don’t take the time to establish what authentic success means to you and tend to that vision, the garden of your life languishes. What is standing between you and flourishing? The answer lies in addressing these three common challenges:

Micro-Ambitious Micro-Ambition Quote by Barbara Waxman

You're Not Sowing the Right Seeds

We tend to see fruits, not labor. We see the award-winning garden, the fully realized person, not the planning, potting, and repotting that made them that way. Just like everyone’s dream garden looks different, success takes on different shapes and meanings for each of us. It changes according to the seasons of life. In our bigger, better, faster society, we’re spoon-fed a false narrative of success: when we work hard, do the ‘right’ things, and meet the ‘right’ people, our lives will bloom into success and happiness.

So, we may spend years or even decades sowing seeds that result in a life that promised fulfillment but feels misaligned. We don’t recognize the seasons of our lives or the skillsets needed to successfully transition time and time again. So, don’t just plant the seeds you’re told to; plant the seeds you want to plant and allow yourself to repot as the seasons of your life change.

Zen Priest Masuno Shunmyo sees 21st-century life as limited in pursuing abundant things. He says we instead need “an abundance of spirit,” a chance for self-reflection, and a connection with one’s inner self.

You're Letting Your BHAGs Get the Best of You

Many of us struggle to recognize the difference between when our Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals propel us and when they paralyze us. If you have a BHAG to design and grow an award-winning English garden or anything else for that matter, the micro-steps you create are arguably the key to your success. Conversely, when we don’t have plans to execute, our BHAGS can become so aspirational that they obstruct us from the potential for joy and purpose.

The truth is that purpose often finds us. It shows itself when we live in sync with our values and grow to know ourselves more fully. Your idea of the so-called ‘perfect’ life will evolve—don’t hold onto those BHAGs that no longer serve you so tightly that you lose your sense of curiosity and the ability to work through transitions.

Research shows that setting overly ambitious goals that aren’t broken down into workable steps can be a detriment toward success.

You're Awaiting Epiphanies Instead of Cultivating Your Inner Wisdom

We can waste untold decades in a state of inertia, hoping that someday, an unforeseen circumstance will shatter our worldview and jolt us awake, revealing who we truly want to be. The truth is, you already have the wisdom you seek.

Carl Jung wrote that all adults have both an inner child and an old sage within them. Honoring your inner child’s energy, curiosity, and spontaneity while also being still enough to hear the quiet voice of your inner sage will enable you to tune into those epiphanies you’re awaiting. So, it’s time to hand your inner sage the gardening gloves.

According to a new study, the yearning to keep comfortable could be holding us back from personal growth.

The Seeds You’ll Want to Plant
for a Well Lived Life

Give Yourself Permission to Repot

There’s lovely wisdom to the old maxim, “Bloom where you are planted.” But there’s equal beauty and wisdom in planting ourselves where we can best bloom. I call this repotting. It’s the intentional act of seeking out new soil that nourishes your life so that you can grow deeper, more robust roots to live more authentically aligned in ways that enable all your ‘small p’ purposeful actions to lead you to your larger sense of what I call ‘Big P’ Purpose. Perhaps you repot in a far-flung country. Maybe you start the process of repotting weekly in a new workshop. Repotting is not about finding the shiniest, prettiest pot; it’s about enabling your continued growth and development so you can thrive.

Set Goals for Who You're Going to Be Quote

Master The Balance of BHAGs and Micro-Ambitions

Being micro-ambitious means being realistic about what you can and will do, not aiming for perfection. The path toward achieving any Big Hairy Audacious Goal begins by starting small and taking micro-ambitious steps. Small, identifiable, measurable actions mount into affirming and sustainable success. Micro-ambitions don’t take precedence over BHAGs. Instead, they work in harmony—your micro-ambitions line the path to your bigger purpose.

Don't Let Society Tell You How to Garden

We live in a culture that believes anyone in midlife is on a slippery slope toward their demise. The truth is, you have more years of living, not dying to do. You are just getting going, entering a new season, writing a new chapter, and continuing to grow and become whole. There’s no “Sell By” date limiting your usefulness when cultivating a growth mindset in the decades of life and leadership in front of you. If you see weeds growing around you, don’t succumb to the myth of midlife and think, “what good will getting rid of them do me now?” It’s never too late to let go of relationships that no longer serve you, to ‘upskill’ and perhaps soften your edges, to learn how to embrace change better and better navigate transitions.

Staying curious and being willing to learn new things is a silver bullet in midlife, and foundational to embracing the demographic gift of increased longevity. And it’s catching on, as evidenced by the growing number of matriculated students over 40. By 2028, there will be well over 3 million of them! This macro trend is just beginning. Global groups like The Nexel Collaborative are creating alliances with colleges and universities that offer midlife transition programs, while programs like Harvard’s Advanced Leadership Institute, Stanford’s Distinguished Careers Insitute, and Modern Elder Academy continue to grow.

Get Your Hands Dirty 

Micro-ambition by micro-ambition. Seed by seed. Curating the life you want takes time and tending—the result: miraculous. With some calluses on your palms and some joy in your heart, could 2023 be the year you start consciously curating your Big Hairy Audacious Goals?

Five to Thrive Quiz

Resilient people rebound from discomfort with grace, stronger and more whole than before. Taking a post-2022 assessment of your personal energy resilience will help you create a micro-ambitious activation plan toward a more fulfilling 2023.

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